Systems at Risk

By Adam Brock

A couple recent posts from the Oil Drum warrant a quick read:

Systems thinkers like to talk about how emergent, bottom-up systems are generally more resilient than top-down, hierarchical ones, because power and innovation is distributed more evenly. But TOD contributor Aeldric’s post on the Failure of Networked Systems points out that even these are prone to collapse under certain conditions. His analysis shows when systems aren’t responding to the proper feedback, and when their components are too tightly interconnected, a failure in one part of the system will be temporarily postponed by shifting new input to another part, until the entire structure collapses from overload.

Actuary Gail Tverberg applies this analysis to our current economic system with Peak Oil and The Financial Markets: A Forecast for 2008. She starts from the premise, fundamental to peak oil theory, that the current economic downturn we’re experiencing is not a short-term aberration but rather the first sign of the long, slow energy descent. While this in itself might sound like a radical proposition to some, her predictions for the coming year aren’t actually all that off base from what many other conventional economists are forecasting: a tightening of the credit market, a deepening recession, and a falling dollar. None of these predictions, of course, are very cheery, but Tverberg’s position is that they’re more or less inevitable – and the sooner we recognize their root cause as the decreasing availability of fossil fuels, the better.

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